The start of 2018 has seen farm-gate prices for prime hoggs increase, unlike early 2017, when prime hogg prices flat-lined throughout the first quarter of the year.

Having opened the year at 178p/kg live weight (l.wt.), prices reached 204p/kg by the second week of February, despite 7.5 per cent more hoggs being sold at Scottish auctions in the four weeks to mid-February than in the same period last year.

This reflects a higher hogg carryover into 2018, as a result of an increased lamb crop in the spring of 2017, coupled with lower slaughtering in the June to December period.

With the UK exporting nearly a third of sheep-meat production in recent years, while importing around 37 per cent of total market supply, trade is a principal factor to consider said Iain Macdonald, Senior Economic Analyst at QMS.

"Rising farm-gate prices in New Zealand have made its sheep-meat more expensive than in the past, raising the cost of importing it into the UK. As a result, import volumes from NZ fell sharply in 2017, while retail prices of NZ lamb rose sharply in the second half of the year," Mr Macdonald explained.

Meanwhile, on the export side, UK traders managed to grow shipments, helped by a favourable exchange rate. The key French market was relatively stable in 2017, a positive result for UK exporters given a long-term decline in French sheep-meat consumption, but a flat trend in production in recent years. Rising consumer confidence in other EU countries underpinned export growth, with Belgium and Germany particularly strong markets in 2017.

Traditionally Easter gives a boost to the UK sheep trade. Easter Sunday is two weeks earlier this year, falling on the first day of April. As a result, processors will be looking to secure supplies in the second half of March.

Market round-up

Messrs Craig Wilson Ltd sold 203 store heifers at Ayr on Thursday to a top of £1205 per head and 275p per kg to average £860.10 and 220.8p (+4.3p on the fortnight), while 224 store, beef-bred bullocks peaked at £1495 and 277.6p to level at £995.56 and 233.1p (+12.6p). Seventy-four store, dairy-bred bullocks sold to £970 and 177.6p to average £732.16 and 157.6p 9+7.9p).

C&D Auction Marts Ltd sold 5606 prime hoggs in Longtown on Thursday to a top of £125 per head and 284p per kg to average 209.1p (-3.9p on the week).

The firm also had 4596 cast sheep forward when heavy ewes sold to £155 for Texels and averaged £79.94 (-£2.19), while light/export-type ewes peaked at £72 for Blackfaces and levelled at £43.53 (-£1.28). Rams sold to £140 for a Charollais and averaged £67.41.